Romance and politics in France
His friends worry about how the high-strung, pugnacious bantam will adjust to his political Elba.
“The falling out of love of the French will be worse than his divorce with Cecilia,” a Sarkozy friend told Le Parisien. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he goes through a small depression.”
This nation of elegant formality frowned at a leader lacking impulse control, who could arrive late for a meeting with the pope and then check his phone, and who could dismiss a citizen who wouldn’t shake his hand at an agricultural fair with a profane version of “Get lost, you poor idiot.”
At a jubilant celebration at the Bastille Sunday night, French revelers held up plastic glasses of Champagne and signs telling Sarko: “Get lost, you poor idiot.”
The rejected suitor is retiring from politics to a home in a posh French neighborhood with his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wealthy and sleek singer and former supermodel, and their baby daughter, Giulia.
The French profess not to care about the personal lives of candidates, but even they are bemused by the roundelay of the first already divorced man to get divorced as president and the first never married father of four to get elected president.
When Sarkozy faced the radiant Segolene Royal in 2007, both of their partners — Cecilia Sarkozy and Francois Hollande — were in love with others, even though the candidates kept it under wraps.
This time the French gave a Gallic shrug as Sarko ran against his ex-opponent’s expartner and father of her four children. Thomas Hollande, their 27-year-old son, worked for his mom in 2007 and his dad this go-round.
Hollande’s new girlfriend is Valerie Trierweiler, a beautiful reporter for the weekly magazine Paris Match who covered Royal and Hollande when they were the Socialist power couple and then left her husband for Hollande as he left Segolene.
Relations between Royal and Hollande — and between the resentful Royal and the possessive Trierweiler — have long been frosty. But the trio appeared on stage at the Bastille on election night — with the two women spaced far apart — and Hollande kissed Royal on both cheeks.
As Steven Erlanger, The New York Times’ Paris bureau chief, noted on the TV channel France 24, sometimes it seems as if “a complicated amorous life is a requirement to be a French president.”
The brutal satyriasis of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, however, pushed even the French past their limit. A book and movie have made splashes chronicling the astonishing Election Day in 2007 when the lithe and lovely Cecilia, who had worked as a political aide to Sarkozy, tried to flee her marriage to go to her lover in New York, the French global events producer Richard Attias.
Her getaway ended up taking five months.
The impetuous Sarko speeddated Carla at Euro Disney, conducted a poll to see if the French would accept the former girlfriend of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton as Premiere Dame, and beat Cecilia to the altar (or the French mayor).
In a February TV interview, Sarkozy said his anguish over losing Cecilia led to early faux pas that haunted him. At the crowning moment of his political life, he conceded, “part of my head was devoted to” his exploding family.
The night of his election, he went to a private dinner with rich friends at the flashy Champs-Elysees restaurant Fouquet’s; the next morning, he and his family jetted off to a billionaire’s yacht moored off Malta and feasted on lobsters.
President Bling-Bling, siding with the rich in his Ray Bans and Rolex, was born. Often last week, when I asked voters why they were so down on Sarkozy, they answered in shorthand with one word: “Fouquet’s.”
Now the French gossip magazines are consumed with Carla’s face (What did she do to mess it up?); Carla’s future (Will she stay with Sarko?); and Carla’s successor (Will Valerie marry the president so she can go on official trips? Will she have to stop being a journalist?).
The twice-married 47-year-old was christened “Valerie Rottweiler” by a Sarkozy deputy because she’s aggressive and sends tart tweets defending her lover and herself.
Although Valerie is still hesitant about her new role, top Socialists told me she deserves credit for imbuing the secondrank, pudding-faced, scooter-riding party apparatchik Hollande with the confidence to defy expectations at a time when his peers had abandoned him.
Basking in the regard of “the love of my life,” as he calls her, he slimmed down, donned less nerdy glasses, and manned up for the big debate.
When Segolene beat him out to be the Socialist candidate, Hollande became known as “Mr. Royal.” But Valerie bolsters him, feeding him throat lozenges and making sure he’s wearing enough layers.
As the Cinderella civil servant celebrated in the medieval city of Tulle Sunday night, he wooed Valerie out on stage, gave her a bouquet of red roses, and twirled her to the song she had requested: an accordion rendering of “La Vie en Rose.” The delirious crowd yelled “Un bisou!” A kiss!
First the desamour, then the amour. C’est la vie.
Maureen Dowd writes for The New York Times.